Mrs. Goose’s Baby by Charlotte Voake
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake
The book begins, “One day Mrs. Goose found an egg…”. In retrospect, we understand the significance of that seemingly innocuous chicken, pecking in the background. When hatched, the baby is fluffy and yellow rather than white and smooth, prefers pecking seeds to eating grass, refuses to swim in the pond when invited by the mother, and says “cheep” instead of “honk”. Mrs Goose is the loving and protective mother. “HONK!”, she says when welcoming her newly hatched baby, and two pink hearts float above her greeting. In this fanciful story of maternal love, Mrs. Goose remains sweetly oblivious that her baby is a chicken.
What keeps this tale sweet but never cloying is the comedy of the illustrations. There are the visual clues to the baby’s identity that are apparent to the reader but unnoticed by the goose. There are the speech balloons, containing only the monosyllabic HONK! or Cheep!, borrowed from comics. There is the humor of the baby’s transformation, given that chickens are intrinsically funny with their tiny heads, drumstick thighs, and pointy toes. There is the final spread showing the mother goose and young chicken walking together through the forest, the former serene and oblivious, the latter highstrung and jittery, communicating in their two languages, “HONK”, “Cluck!”, while a girl, a boy, and a cat look on from the side of the path.
Charlotte Voake creates airy pen and watercolor illustrations that convey humor and emotion with an economy of line. Witness the expressiveness of the faces despite often having only dots for eyes. She is delightfully adept at cats, dogs, chickens, and little girls, all of whom make frequent appearances in her work. Ginger, her best-known book, features an orange tabby who is disgruntled by the appearance of a playful kitten who eats from his food bowl and invades the sanctity of his basket. In Here Comes the Train, Voake depicts a family (her own) riding their bicycles to the footbridge that spans the tracks. She gets it just right; the quiet waiting, the camaraderie, the gathering anticipation. When the train whooshes underneath, we see the sparks flying from the locomotive’s wheels, hear the horn and the children’s screams, feel the rattle of the footbridge and the wind in the hair. This must be the most visceral rendition of a train in children’s literature. In addition to her own books, Voake has illustrated nursery rhymes (Over the Moon), classic fairy tales (The Three Little Pigs and Other Favorite Nursery Stories), Eleanor Farjeon’s Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep, and the 16th century story, Gammer Gurton’s Needle – all of which are treats for those who love her whimsical visual style.